When users click the Like button there is an exchange from structured linguistics to semiotics. Facebook users are communicating more than they just the fact they “Like” the content, they are associating themselves with symbolism interconnected to the content as part of their identity, creating a relationship in an inclusive network through semiotic nodes. Wiki will examine the symbolic activity behind the Facebook Like button, a black box, serving as a significant semiotic node within a social institutional means of transmission and expression through an interdisciplinary analysis by establishing the macro- and micro-level issues created and examining the significant roles it plays in policy, culture, innovation and technology online and offline.

I. The Button


Facebook is a social networking service launched in February 2004 that is operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc. Facebook describes itself as “a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers.” Facebook statistics state that the service has more than 800 million active users, with more than 50% of them logging in, and each member has an average of 130 friends. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg along with Eduaro Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Huges (Facebook). Originally limited to Harvard students, Facebook quickly expanded reaching over a million users in it’s first year. Facebook is one of the most-trafficked sites in the world and has built an infrastructure to support it’s rapid growth. This infrastructure relies on a social design with Social Plugins, such as the Like button, on an Open Graph Protocol. Facebook serves as an agency ascribed to people, social organizations, and technologies. Utilizing Facebook as a social institution this wiki will examine the Like button as an inclusive agent through means of transmission by analyzing the technology, media, history and it’s significant role in institution of culture online and its real-world consequences.


The Like Button
Each year, millions of people post on Facebook to share what is important to them, discuss world events, or just catch up with friends. With more than 800 million people connected around the globe on Facebook, people are subjected to immense amounts of content daily. Facebook allows users to interact with content through several methods, one of these methods is the Like button, which has become increasingly significant since it was introduced in February 2009.

According to Facebook, “the Like button lets Facebook users share Web content with friends on Facebook. When the Facebook user clicks the Like button on a website, a story appears in the user's friends' News Feed with a link back to your website” (Facebook). Originally the Like button only applied to content on Facebook, however after gaining popularity the Like button was applied websites outside of Facebook then subsequently to comments within Facebook, and has consolidated other Facebook buttons, such as ‘Share’ or ‘Become a Fan’ under the Like button.

The Like feature is similar to how one may rate a restaurant on a reviews site, by rating a restaurant one may choose 5 stars, however sometimes one might want to write a review to go into further detail. The Like feature has become the stars one would rate with and the comments to be the review.

The Like button on the marco-level serves as a method to share information to friends, family, coworkers and Facebook. The issue lies in it’s micro-level, and to examine this, requires the concept of opening the “black box.” Users clicking on the Like button serves as the input, the output is the display on users’ Facebook newsfeeds and profile. The interior processes lie unknown, data is being collected through Facebook with little transparency to be interpreted. The function of data collection lies in limbo, if this data is not being used to collected targeted data, which Facebook denies, is this data that can be subpoenaed by governments? How can this black box be undone? Bruno Latour describes his Network Theory and states that the model of necessary interdependencies in mutually constitutive relationships, undoes social constructed black boxes.

Through Hegel’s view of philosophy, this wiki will examine and interdisciplinary approach by analyzing the Like button through a level ordinarily unexamined to unravel the consequences posed by the black box created by the Like button.

II. The Spread

Observe how many Facebook plugins on one page

</Like> Inside the black box
Facebook has made the adoption of the Like button for any one to add to their Web pages extremely effortless by providing easy to install Social Plugins. In fact they stress out of all of the Social Plugins, that the Like button is the most important. Facebook allows developers several options for the Like Button that can include the names and profile pictures of the user’s friends who have also liked the page. Facebook allows developers to install two different implementations of the Like button: XFBML and Iframe. The XFBML version, while more versatile, requires use of the JavaScript SDK, an API that provides a rich set of functionality for accessing Facebook’s servers (Facebook). The XFBML dynamically re-sizes its height according to whether there are profile pictures to display, giving developers the ability (through the Javascript library) to listen for like events so that developers know in real time when a user clicks the Like button, and it always gives the user the ability to add an optional comment to the like (Facebook).

The ease of adoption has become a catalyst in the Like button’s dominance over the Web. Facebook Platform offers websites not only an opportunity for social engagement, but a method for users to categorize themselves with a website’s product. When a Web page represents a real-world entity, things like movies, sports teams, celebrities, and restaurants, Facebook allows developers to enable their Open Graph protocol to specify information about the entity at hand. The Open Graph Protocol enables developers integration of Web pages into Facebook’s social graph. If a developer includes Open Graph tags on their Web page, their page becomes equivalent to a Facebook page. This creates a connection between the Web page and the Facebook user when they click a Like button on the Web page. The Web page will now appear in the "Likes and Interests" section of the user's Facebook profile, and the Web page now has the ability to publish updates to the Facebook user. The developer’s Web page will appear in same location that Facebook pages show up around the site, allowing targeted ads to users who like the content.

In fact it has become so easy that The Like button dominated Facebook has even released an official Like button extension for Chrome (Chrome Web Store), Google’s popular Internet Browser, allowing users to share or recommend web pages, images, videos (HTML 5 only) and audio (HMTL 5 only). This system has provided Faceboook with successful analytics, Facebook claims the Like button has improved clickthrough rates by allowing Facebook users to connect with one click, and by allowing them to see which of their friends have already connected.

The ease of implementation of the Like button has been established.

Comedian/Actor Andy Samburg parodies Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at F8

Facebook claims the data from the Like button is used to personalize Web content, improve its services, fix bugs and implement security features. Facebook also claims it does not use the data to track users or target advertising to them, and that it deletes or anonymizes the data within 90 days. Although Facebook has been found to collect information even if one does not click the Like button to website visited, according to Facebook’s statistics state that there are over 800 million Facebook users and over 7 million websites and apps are integrated with Facebook, that is a lot of data that is going through Facebook. However it is not clear how this data is being used, if not for targeted advertising, could this data be subpoenaed by governments or lawyers?

Facebook used the Like button to collect data about Web users who were not members of Facebook. Nonmembers were traced through IP address and collected data activity through cookies deposited by Facebook’s buttons according to Arnold Roosendaal, a privacy researcher at the Tilburg University for Law, Technology and Society in the Netherlands, in his paper, Facebook tracks and traces everyone: Like this! Facebook claims that this collection of data was a bug that was quickly fixed once found, and that now it only sets cookies when a person visits and does not use cookies or IP addresses to create profiles of nonmembers (The New York Times).
Roosendaal offers Facebook users advice by blocking all cookies, or logging out of Facebook and deletion of cookies before visiting other sites on Web. Other options entail browser plugins such as Abine’s button-blocking feature for Firefox that stops data transfers to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ or Webgraph’s Facebook Blocker that entirely blocks all Facebook buttons and works on Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari.

It has been established that Facebook is collecting data through the Like button and that as the button spreads across the Web, so does Facebook’s data collection.

Just a button? Legal Aspects.
The Like button caused controversy in legal aspects to European data protection laws, claiming violation of privacy laws. In August 2011 the Like Button was declared illegal in Germany. The German state of Schleswig-Holstein’s data protection commissioner, Thilo Weichert, ordered state institutions to shut down the fan pages on Facebook and remove the “Like” button from their websites, claiming the Like button leads to profiling that violates German and European law (Huffington Post). Weichert claims Facebook violated German and European data protection law by passing content data to Facebook’s servers in the United States as well as the building of profiles for individuals not on the service, as well as of its members. Facebook insists complete compliance with European data protection laws but admits they can see information such as IP address of users who visit a site with the Like button. Weichert has asked website owners in Schleswig-Holstein to immediately deactivate the plugins as well as threaten legal action with failure to comply with a fine up to $72,000. (ZDNet)
Issues questioning illegal privacy violations behind the Like button has been established.

Social consequences

Social issues arise within the self-regulated rules of Facebook

The Like button serves symbolically for more than just the neutral textual definition of liking content. Allowing Facebook users to “Like” comments, photos, links, and statuses, expands the meaning behind the function. There offline, invisible influences, that play as factors behind whether a users click “Like” that could go unaccounted for. For example, a friend asks other users to “Like” a certain Fan Page to promote engagement, or a user is required to click “Like” to enter a contest. Interesting enough, the success of the “Like function can be measured by users request for a “Dislike” button to express themselves better. Facebook has stated they will not create a “Dislike” button, thus allowing users several actions with content, either they can “Like” it, leave a comment or share the content on their own wall. This (whether intentionally or not) created the absence of engagement as negative reinforcement.
We have established a social and cultural embrace of the Like button function.

III. Analysis of the button


We have established the macro- and micro-level issues created by Facebook’s Like button by examining the significant roles it plays in policy, culture, innovation and technology online and offline. This mediologic approach scrutinizes the Like button from many disciplines, yet focuses on the technologies role in institutions and culture in a larger system. Furthermore, this approach allows the examination of real-world consequences regarding how Facebook as an agency ascribes to people, social organizations, and technologies.

By creating a free, easy to use plugin, Facebook is promoting an infrastructure within the Web, interconnected and interdependent, by spreading it’s tentacles across the Internet with it’s own model of self-regulation within it’s systems creating an institution of complex social and cultural rules and regulations. C.S. Peirce, Yuri Lotman, Umberto Eco describe the Linguistic and Symbolic Meaning as a Culture System, when applied to the Like button, the button functions as the passage of feedback in the network. When users click the Like button there is an exchange from structured linguistics to semiotics, users are saying more than they just like the content, they are associating themselves with the idea behind the content as part of their identity. The spread of Like buttons across the Web further establishes an “unlimited system” of chains through the button and networks of signs interpreted though other signs, such as content “Liked”.

Eco’s “Cultural Encyclopedia” decodes levels of cultural meaning and symbolic relation. Applying Eco’s “Cultural Encyclopedia” to the technical aspects of the code behind the Like button, the coding provides a semiotic node in the network created through Facebook and its relationship with the user. This ongoing process is a constantly evolving engagement between the user and the symbolism behind the content “Liked”. However if Facebook was to cease to exist, all symbolic relationships between the user and the content would be useless. Therefore Facebook’s function of the Like button is a crowdsourcing of symbolic relationships to users’ identity interdependent on websites’ providence of Facebook’s services.

The Like button functions as a transmitter of a symbolic message to Facebook, as well as a semiotic node of a relationship within a constantly evolving network, while what is “Liked”is displayed on Facebook, the social consequences apply offline as well. What users Like on Facebook is publicly displayed therefore other Facebook users are engaged within the network are possibly aware of the Likes one issues, creating heuristics and relationships between content one has liked and their symbolic understanding of that individual. Not only are marketers able to categorize for personalized and targetable advertising, but other Facebook members are able to categorize one based on their Like actions as well.

Facebook's established dominance in culture exhibited by an award winning film of it's creation.

Statistics about Facebook

Mikhail Bakhtin wrote, “when we select words in the process of constructing an utterance, we by no means always take them from the system of language in their neutral, dictionary form. We usually take them from other utterances, and mainly from utterances that are kindred to ours in genre, that is, in theme, composition, or style. (Baktin, p.87)”

Mikhail Bakhtin applies this theory towards linguistics, I would argue this applies to the actions of an individual on social media services as well. When one actively clicks “Like” on a Facebook button, they (consciously or unconsciously) are associating themselves with content, originally neutral, to a symbolically constructed kindred of their decision. These “Likes” operate as what Regis Debray would describe as in “mediospheres” this applies “Likes” as analyzable terms of signs and code, and not disembodied knowledge.

tumblr_kswku2dCtA1qzwtv8o1_500.pngThis relationship between “Liked” content and identity of Facebook users can be further analyzed through Guy Dubord’s Society of the Spectacle . Dubord states, “The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as concrete inversion of life, is autonomous movement of the non-living [Debord, 2].” For many Facebook users, their Likes have become an autonomous stream, unexamined, users click the Like button without understanding the consequences behind what they are reinforcing. Facebook has created a spectator environment, between individuals, people’s daily lives are being watched by other Facebook users, willfully providing content to their audiences through material they actively decide to “Like”. There is no question Facebook has become an important aspect of human life though it’s impact on technology, media, culture, policy, and history. Facebook is an extension of human's extension in technology as McLuhan described in Excerpts from Understanding Media The Extensions of Man, Part I, “we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly we approach the final phase of the extensions of man - the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole human society..." The popularity of Facebook has been established, society has chosen to embrace for better or worse, now lies to question of the consequences of this decision.

“The alienation of the spectator to the profit of the contemplated object (which is the result of his own unconscious activity) is expressed in the following way: the more he contemplates the less he lives, the more he accepts recognizing himself in the dominant images of the need, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires. The externality of the spectacle in relation to the active man appears in the fact that his own gestures are no longer his but those of another who represents them to him. That is why the spectator feels at home nowhere, because the spectacle is everywhere (Debord, 30.)” While Debord applies this unconsciousness towards television, I would like to apply this analysis towards the loss of identity within Facebook users through the Like button. The more users are engaging within Facebook’s system of regulations, the more interdependent they become upon the network.

Debord's examinations showcase the development of network of invisible forces of transmission in which everything authentic in life has moved into a realm of representation from ”Likes.” The consequences of this social organization lie in detachment from authentic life into a submerged, inverted mediasphere as Eco described as a 'cultural encyclopedia' that promotes anti-social behavior in authentic life over the preference of online socio-cultural institution Facebook has created. Facebook has become an institutional means of transmission, a platform for producers to engage their audiences through expressions of media in objects within Facebook's ecosystem, with the Facebook Likes serving as nodes within the networks, strengthening relationships between users and content. Many users self-construct these nodes unconsciously, unaware of the connections they are making. There seems to be a sense of learned behavior and operant conditioning reinforced by the network, users are constantly changing roles between producers and receivers. Through positive and negative reinforcement the media distinguishes which expressions and ideas merit attention. When the media presents negative news in regards to certain content, users might ‘unlike’ content to distance themselves from the negative connotation associated with it.

IV Conclusion


As Facebook stands as an institutional means of transmission, within the service lies a cultural encyclopedia consisting of the learned codes, genres, symbolic correspondences; comprising of semiotic networks and their structures of meaning. The Like button’s function as semiotic node in an unlimited, evolving network creates a relationship between users and content across the Web. Applying a interdependent and interconnected network of self-regulation within the very network responsible for it’s creation, the Internet. Behavior online, in this instance, the active choice of clicking “Like” of content, is a Facebook users’ active choice of compliance within Facebook’s institution of rules. A user’s behavior affected by invisible connections online and offline, whether ideologies of culture or individuality, form discourse through their subjective identity in the community online. While some users are aware of the relationships they are establishing by clicking “Like,” there are users who are unaware of the consequences. Therefore Facebook users are a mix of authentic personalities as well as constructed virtual personalities people would like to be viewed as. A Facebook user can “Like” a certain charitable organization, yet never participate in any form towards it, yet the association observed by other followers is generally a positive association between the charity and the user, whether their behavior is mirrored online or offline, many users are likely to adopt opinions or heuristics of an individual based on what activity they witness online.

The presence of Facebook brings about a new era of human interaction, it is critical that the service and it’s functions are examined. While Facebook has undeniably become a force of technology, culture, innovation and part of human history, it is still important to understand it has only done so because we have simply chosen it as the preferred method of communication. Facebook is only as powerful as it’s users allow it to be and would cease to exist without engagement. Facebook engineers’ designs and infrastructure influence users’ behavior, yet the users ultimately control which functions will remain and which depreciate. Opening the “blackbox” of the Facebook Like button unveils a transmission of data and symbolic relationships without isolation, a system within Facebook’s ecology, with consequences online and offline; and it is critical to understand these consequences behind the click of the Like button.

Jerry Seinfeld's understanding to Facebook's success in 1992

Work Cited

Web Content
Abine - Social button blocker
Facebook | Statistics
Facebook Blog - Like My Status: Memology 2011
Facebook Blog - I like this
Facebook Blog - I like your comment
Facebook Developers - Social Plugins
Google Chrome - Facebook Like Button Extension
Huffington Post - Facebook like button illegal in Germany
New York Times - As ‘Like’ Buttons Spread, So Do Facebook’s Tentacles
Webgraph - Facebook Blocker
ZDNet - Germany violates privacy laws

Bakhtin, M. Mikhail Bakhtin: Key Theory from his major writings (On Dialogism, Heteroglossia, Polyphony)
Debord, G. The Society of the Spectacle (1967) [Another online copy.] (Selections: Read sections 1-6, 10-11, 17-18, 24-30)
Debray, R. Media Manifestos. Trans. Eric Rauth. London and NY: Verso, 1996.
Eco, U. "The Theory of Signs and the Role of the Reader."
Irvine, A combined theory model (Powerpoint)
Irvine, Introduction to Mediology and Network Theory(presentation)
Marshall McLuhan, "The Medium is the Message" (Excerpts from Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man. 2nd Edition)
Latour, B. "On Actor-Network Theory: A few clarifications plus more than a few complications.
Interview with Debray, Wired Magazine, Jan. 1995.
Peirce, C.S., Lotman, Y. and Eco, U. Linguistic and Symbolic Meaning as a Culture System


Facebook in '90s
Facebook in real life
Facebook movie 'The Social Network' Trailer
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